The Evolution of Online Education

I really enjoy showing people how to do stuff, especially creative stuff. When I started doing that kind of thing for technology companies, in the late 1990’s, I had to get on a plane in order to reach my audience as there was simply no other way. In 2008, I started Adobe TV as a way to educate a much, much wider audience without having to replicate myself and/or spend all my life in the unfriendly skies. My team and I built a TV studio in the Adobe SF office and brought all the “Evangelists” like me in to record their presentations. 8 years later and it’s still going strong, reaching over 3 million people all over the world each and every month.

The model was to basically take an existing presentation, or classroom lesson,  and record it on video, then distribute the video online. That model is still the primary way most people learn complex subjects, and I’ve been thinking lately that it’s become antequated and will die off soon. The next evolution is already here.

I just wrapped up a project in which I was leading the creation of very short (7 to 10 second) tutorial videos, showing how to do basic creative tasks in mobile apps for one of my clients. The videos are offered “in-context”, meaning that when you first encounter a new tool, the app offers to “show you how” and if you want to be shown, you get a very short video loop which clearly and articulately demonstrates how the tool works. There is no audio, no “presenter’s voice” to get in the way. It’s not necessary.

For this type of instruction, this new model, IMO, represents the quickest path from concept to brain. This is the best example I’ve seen recently:

http://whatsmyudid.com/

I had the need to explain to a group of people how to find the UDID on their iOS devices, and I can’t think of a quicker way to show someone than that example above.

Only a few years ago, the common wisdom was “engaging” online video content had to be 5 minutes or less. By last year that had shrank to 2-3 minutes, and in almost all instances today my clients want videos to run no longer than 2 minutes. Closer to a minute and a half if possible. People just want the information in the shortest amount of time without anything getting in the way.

So, if we really break it down, to get an idea across to a large audience, does it even need to be that long anymore? Should most visual communication be geared towards the 15-seconds-or-less, audio-free, Instagram-length video loop? Or a series of loops for something more complex? You don’t necessarily want to teach brain surgery that way, but for many ideas it just may be the right answer.

The model of the 15, 30, and 60 second commercial spot, which has been a tradition in visual media since the beginning of Television, remains one of the most effective means of storytelling. Teaching someone a task is a type of storytelling. Could that model be the future of showing people how to do creative stuff, or for that matter ANY kind of stuff?

 

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Baseball Dad

Game 1 Postmortem

To: (name of other parent coach redacted)
From: Bob Donlon

Hey (other parent coach redacted):

Here’s my summary of game 1 from my own personal perspective (and you know I’m opinionated and PURE BRONX i.e. “overpassionate sometimes in my written communication” so please take everything with a grain of salt Mr. (name of other parent coach redacted), and apologies in advance for my occasional overzealousness).

Please feel free to use whatever of the below is useful to you in your further communication with the parents, (name of coach redacted), and the league, and please do chuck the rest (or all of it if that works better for you). I’ll keep out of it from there, and let you continue to do the talking to the rest of the folks on all those fronts 😉

IMO, overall, today was a major MAJOR success. The kids all had fun from what I could tell, everyone got their at bats, most if not all kids got on base, the pitchers were outstanding, and there were some great fielding moments where the kids just knew what to do, in very complex situations, with many people yelling at them. That is incredible. If nothing else ever comes out of it, you gotta admit, seeing a kid like (name of kid redacted) or (name of kid redacted) just know instinctively to step on 3rd base like that is pretty awesome at this age. There’s some real brain wiring that’s happening with these kids that are a big part of their education and becoming who they are, and this would be great to highlight in the board meetings as you have a voice in these matters.

Speaking of board meetings, when speaking with (name of school principal redacted), etc, please remember to highlight the fact that we didn’t get nasty and have (name of kid redacted) look at pitches to almost guaranteedly give the (name of school redacted) 2nd Grade Baseball Giants the glory of the walkoff victory today. Holy shit, that would’ve made that other team consisting of all boys, with some older kids, bigger kids in general no matter what the age, coached by a complete dick feel really stupid, wouldn’t it? (name of coach redacted) was literally about to go if I said go and I knew there was no way he or anyone should ever do a dick kind of move like that ever. Holy shit, can you imagine? So of course we both got a hold of ourselves and realized you ALWAYS let the kids swing no matter WHAT the situation. That’s what they CAME for! To SWING THE FRIKKIN BAT!!!

He did not suggest this awful possibility to me BTW, I want to make this very clear. I just proposed a hypothetical to him when (name of kid redacted) came up to bat with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 6th with 2 outs and the game tied, and we were both so tense that he just thought to jump at the chance without thinking about it.

“You realize how easy this would be.”

“You want me to do it?”

“No. No frikking way.”

Holy shit (name of other parent coach redacted) that is a fucking (name of school redacted) culture story if there ever was one. We could’ve coached our kids to victory in a second and instead we let the fat kid swing at a pitch 6 feet over his head and strike out for out number 3. You realized the other team didn’t cheer the (name of team redacted) because they knew they lost the game. Or maybe they did and I didn’t notice it but who cares. But to our kids it was a tie and they are delighted and so am I and I think the rest of the parents are too 🙂

Moving on. (name of coach redacted) rocked it on ALL levels. This guy is gold and we should do whatever we can to keep him or even better see if there is a position for him at (name of school redacted) hint hint. IMO he is shining most notably as follows:

1. Instruction

2. Leadership

3. Balance of authority and friendliness

4. Reaction when we were treated unfairly in the game today (just gave it back in equal measure and most assholes like that will back off when confronted by someone who wears “don’t fuck with me” all over them).

5. Didn’t cross the line when we had a chance to win the game in a kinda shitty way (ie have (name of kid redacted) look at pitches in order to walk in the winning walkoff run)

Suggestions for follow up to parents:

I would like for us to compose and distribute an information sheet for the parents, so they understand how to behave on and around a baseball field, and how their kids are expected to behave. I realized today that most of the parents didn’t know the “rules of the road” and I may have been unduly harsh when getting people out of the way when there were safety issues at hand (both kids and parents). I’m willing to compose a draft and you can review/edit/send if you wish. I feel it needs to be done before Game 2, however it gets done. I’m not going to get into the variety of things that went on, some of it was people just not knowing what to do, some of was is the typical BS of people not being aware of what is going on around them, and some of it was just plain old people being dumb. Sorry, just callin’ ’em like I see ’em.

I would also like us to communicate with the other (name of school redacted) volunteer coaches what is expected of them at games. If they are assigned a job by (name of coach redacted) or you or me, and they fall down on that, then they shouldn’t be in any game areas whatsoever. I’ll leave it to you and (name of coach redacted) to address as you see fit, however my own suggestion is to have clearly defined roles before gameday for all volunteer coaches, and for people who flake they are not invited back again. It was more of a pain in the ass for me to police the parents today than the kids.

Suggestions for follow up to league:

This having coaches call balls/strikes is only going to lead to tears. It is beyond ridiculous and needs to stop. There is enough affluence in SF at this point to be able to find and pay for at least a high school student to umpire these games. Please don’t make me and you and (name of coach redacted) have to go through what we had to today to keep that asshole in check (if it were your typical wishy-washy SF parents he would’ve walked all over us and the kids would’ve lost by a mile). It was on the line of getting ugly, and I AM PARTLY TO BLAME FOR THAT. I should’ve walked away at one point and just said “Hey (name of coach redacted), this guy is cheating us by consistently calling pitches over batters heads as strikes, so please keep on his ass” and left it at that. I can be obsessive in general, and I let my obsessive tendency get the best of me today. I will do a much better job keeping that in check in the future, and just step back, let (name of coach redacted) do his job, and let the rest go.

IN FINAL

(name of my kid redacted) was delighted and exhausted. Holy shit 2 hours! You must be one proud Dad after (name of his kid redacted) threw like that. Holy Mackerel! That was a great starting rotation!

My best,
BD

Goodbye old buddy.

Yesterday I texted a friend of many years, Chris Donoyan, hoping to get together to catch up on a few things. A few minutes later came the following reply:

This is Raffi, I’m Chris’ brother. I’m sorry to notify you like this, but my brother passed away.”

Chris was murdered in his LA apartment in late November. The crime remains unsolved.

We met in 1998 when I was with a startup called Anystream. We were the first to market with an enterprise-class web video encoding platform, and my colleague Patrick O’Connor (one of the inventors of the Avid Film Composer) had designed a new product for us, targeted at the TV and Film post production market. Patrick, Bob “Sully” Sullivan, Fady Lamaa, and I flew to LA to meet with Chris and his then business partner Mike Cavanaugh, to demo this new thing for them and see if they’d be willing to open some doors for us in the LA market. They absolutely loved the product, and from that point forward I made many trips back and forth between New York and LA to run around town with Chris showing this thing off to just about everyone. We did really well.

Chris would host me in his apartment in Studio City on my visits, letting me have his guest bedroom. We were both single at the time, and both shared an affinity for weed. Chris was a native Angelino and took me places that only locals know. We’d spark one up on the drive and wind up at some biker bar up in the hills and drink beers with people like Crispin Glover. On the way to one such place, we were waiting at a red light in Chris’ car. Jay Leno pulled up next to us in some kind of crazy open-top roadster. Chris yelled out the window to him.

“Hey Jay, is that thing street legal?”

“Legal enough!”

A few years later, Chris parted ways with Mike C and started his own company, Home Run Media. He continued to rep Anystream, as well as another startup I was with (also started by Patrick and Sully) and we continued to do really well together on the business side of things.

About a year after he founded Home Run, I was driving through my wife’s hometown in New Mexico, and I noticed a pizza joint called “Home Run Pizza”. They had stolen Chris’ logo, it was amazing to see. Complete and total rip-off. When we got back to the house, I gave Chris a call to tell him.

“Chris, you won’t believe it. This local pizza shop out here ripped your brand and logo.”

“Oh, that’s not surprising.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, Home Run was also the name of my Porn Company.”

“Oh.”

Chris had been in the Porn business many years earlier, and had used the same brand name and logo. These guys in New Mexico had probably seen it on the back of a DVD case while high and decided to use the name.

Chris had shared many stories with me of his days producing Porn, and out of respect his family who is going through an awful time right now, I’m going to leave it at that.

He left the technology business awhile back and was making a go at it as a Hollywood Agent, representing film writers and producers. He seemed to really be enjoying it.

Suren Christopher Donoyan, a 53-year white man, was found dead with a gunshot wound to his head on Nov. 25 in an apartment in North Hollywood, according to coroner’s officials. (LA Times)

Only my LA friends knew about this and nobody told me. I had to inform Jeff, Brenda, and some others yesterday and that is the shittiest news to have to deliver. I tried to get more information from his brother, but he was not willing to share anything further and of course I respect that completely.

KC and I will be getting together later today and I hope she can fill me in.

Miss you, Chris.

The iResentment

Since I’m rather Late To The Party on joining the iPhone cult (I bought my first one ever today) I’m going to summarize the reason for my tardiness in the hope that you don’t report me to HR. It won’t happen again Sir/Ma’am.

http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/

Steve Jobs “open letter” above, written nearly 5 years ago, set off a rather cantankerous battle between “us at Adobe and them at the Fruit Company”, which made it rather precarious to be doing my job as a corporate loudmouth for Adobe. The video and audio products I worked on were tightly interwoven with teams at Apple, and what we were doing together had nothing at all to do with Flash and consumer devices. Nonetheless, we were at war on one front and peace at another.

My instinct to finish that paragraph above was to try to draw a comparison with Hitler and Stalin, but then my brain said, “no. Wrong idea, Bobby.”

There is more to this story than Steve Jobs let on. Adobe’s Flash technology could potentially enable developers to circumvent Apple’s “walled garden” that provides unparalleled user experience while simultaneously ensuring that Apple gets their cut off the top of all app and media purchases. This pissed us off, and there were emotions at play. At an event I spoke at in Singapore where there was a local Apple representative there to kick off the event, there was a disagreement between he and I as to whether he was allowed to promote Final Cut Pro in his talk. Getting into business arguments in other cultures without having a local at your side is not something I recommend ever doing. Nothing too bad happened, let’s leave it at that.

There are certain inner workings of any tech company that those in the “circle of trust” can’t reveal, so what led to me and numerous others at Red A to be issued Android phones is something that I’m not allowed to get into here. It was the first touchscreen I got to know intimately beyond the physical BlackBerry keyboard that I was able to type like a mofo on up until then. The realities of my role leading software development on mobile platforms forced me to experience what we were building myself, so I sent off the corporate requisition and a few days later had me an Android.

Yes, I had iPhones at my disposal for testing then, and have continuously had them on hand for that purpose ever since, but never as “my phone”. The 3 or so Andriod phones I’ve owned have served me just fine. Nothing horrible, nothing great.

Everything changed two weeks ago. My “top of the line” Motorola Droid Razr HD started randomly taking me off mute during phone calls when the UI said I was muted. The first time it happened on a conference call was embarrassing. The second time I had enough. The last firmware update Verizon shoved down my throat a few months ago screwed the pooch, and the phone has been laughably unstable ever since.

Apple made it too easy. 10 minutes on their website, a 20 minute cab ride to the Apple Store on Chestnut St, and 15 minutes after that I was sending the first text off of the thing to my wife.

The burden has been lifted. The monkey is finally off my back. I can move on with my life now. This thing is so frikking amazing.

The Great Burden of 1958

sheaThe view from my season tickets at Shea Stadium – Loge Reserve Section, 11 Row E, Seats 5 and 6. I took this photo right before the first pitch of Game 4 of the 2000 World Series, which Derek Jeter popped over the left field fence for a home run. The Yankees took the series in 5 games.

My hometown The Bronx New York has a reputation that doesn’t need to be explained to anyone.

When I lived in London at age 18, my Aussie and Kiwi roommates were amazed that I didn’t carry a gun to protect myself. Poet Ogden Nash famously wrote “The Bronx? No Thonx”. The teachers that taught me there were often so damn ignorant they told us the borough’s namesake Jonas Bronck was Dutch (he was actually a Swede).

No, I didn’t like growing up there at all. On top of everything, I was freakishly tall as a kid, and as my height outpaced my musculature I was an easy target. There were kids in my 6th grade class who had been left back 3 times and had siblings in prison, and they didn’t fuck around.

Worst of all, I had to root for The Mets.

The most successful and storied professional baseball franchise in United States history, the New York Yankees, makes it’s home in The Bronx. Even people who’ve never watched a baseball game in their entire lives have heard of the “Bronx Bombers”. The Babe. Lou Gehrig. Pride of the Yankees. “My hometown team”. When I tell other Baseball Fans I’m from The Bronx and despite this root for The Mets, they want to put a bullet in my head.

Please let me explain how this all happened.

My father spent his teenage and young adult years living in a residential hotel in Midtown Manhattan with my grandfather. They spent many weekend afternoons at the Polo Grounds, enjoying the superb play of the New York Giants baseball team who were a perennial contender in those days. The Polo Grounds was demolished many years ago.

Directly across the very narrow Harlem River from the Polo Grounds site, sits Yankee Stadium, home to the mortal, sworn enemy of every baseball fan in the universe (multiplier effect applies to all fans of the Boston Red Sox, and NY Mets in that order).

The year was 1958, and the owners of both the Giants and Dodgers diarrhea’d all over their loyal fan base and brought the franchises to California. New York City was without a National League team until 1962 when the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club came into existence. The “Mets” began their generally hapless existence by losing many, many games in splendid fashion at the Polo Grounds, shitting all over the greatness of Willie Mays and others (ironically Mays would join The Mets as their star player during the swan song of his playing career).

There was just no way any Giants fan could possibly become a Yankees fan. That would be like me joining the nazi party while simultaneously swearing allegiance to oliver cromwell. For this reason, my dad (like all good Giants fans) became a Mets fan. I inherited this condition.

Nobody who follows baseball in New York City, in a sincere and genuine fashion, ever roots for both teams. It just isn’t done. When I meet someone from New York who roots for both Mets and Yankees, it reminds me of the girls I dated in college who were dating me and had romantic relationships going with other girls at the same time. Way too scattered to focus on anything.

As luck would have it, my sworn enemy the Yankees had one of their Golden Eras in the early 1970’s when I was a child growing up in The Bronx. All of my friends witnessed the greatness of Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Thurmon Munson and so many others. Billy Martin kicked sand on umpires. Crucial playoff games were won on impossible walkoff home runs. Fans rained down thousands of chocolate bars upon the Red Sox outfielders on “Reggie Bar” day. Full size bats were given to every fan as a promotion, and somehow nobody killed anyone. It was a magical time to be a Yankees fan.

Us Mets fans? Not so much. 1973 did give us a National League Pennant under the leadership of the great Yogi Berra as manager, but after that we had Dave Kingman, George Foster, and an overall Zen and mentality that I can best describe as “Quantum Losership”.

That’s not to say we didn’t have an absolutely wonderful time at Shea Stadium watching The Mets lose. You could spend $3 for a General Admission ticket that would grant you access to any seat you wanted in the expansive Upper Deck. People smoked cheeba and performed sexual acts on each other in the upper rows and nobody gave a shit. Wacky promotions by the team included a live Mule and mule cart which transported visiting relief pitchers from the bullpen to the pitcher’s mound. It was never, ever, ever boring. Best of all, it was quality time bonding with my dad. No distractions other than the inept play on the field, and the occasional death threats issued to each other by random drunken fans.

In my High School years, I used Shea as a refuge, sometimes taking the 40 minute QBx1 bus ride from Co-op City to Flushing, then jumping on the 7 train for the 1 stop ride to the stadium to watch the game by myself.

Shea Stadium was one of those projects that tried to be too many things to too many people, built in an architectural era defined by concrete. It was designed for both baseball and football games, as well as concerts and other types of events, and as a result wasn’t particularly well-suited for anything at all. Everyone remembers The Beatles famous performance there (which my Dad attended and, like everyone else who was there, he will tell you that nobody could hear a damn thing aside from the sound of 50,000 hysterical teenage girls).

In 1986, when I was a sophomore at SUNY Purchase, The Mets won the World Series. The final game was wrapping up during an orchestra rehearsal, and my roommate Roger Lee pumped his fist in the air every time The Mets scored a run (he had his Walkman on tuned to the game, and the conductor was for some reason willing to tolerate his occasional hysterical outbursts from the Trumpet section). By the time rehearsal was over and I’d returned to the dorms, The Mets had won it and the place was going bezerk. A sweet little hippy chick I knew named Serena was running back and forth down the halls screaming like a lunatic. I don’t think she’d ever even seen a baseball game in her entire life.

After that, I stopped caring about baseball for many years. Then, in the late ’90’s my friend Paul Morrill invited me to partner on a pair of Mets season tickets with himself, our pal Dan Petrafessa, and a friend of theirs named Alex who they knew from the Jam Band scene (Paul and Dan worked as lighting designers for the band Blues Traveler –  my bandmates and I were friends with those guys as well as the guys from Spin Doctors. A story for another time.). I figured “what the heck” and went in with them. We went to lots of games and had a blast. Yukked it up with the lunatic fans, ate hot dogs and drank beer with the great bassist Bobby Sheehan (RIP) and many other friends, and delighted as my borderline-psychotic section-mates razzed Matt Dillon when he sat next to us during the 2000 World Series. You never saw a celebrity take such abuse. “HEY MATT!!!! WHASSAMATTA, YOU COULDN’T GET NO BETTER SEATS THAN THIS?!?!?!”

The 1999 and 2000 post-seasons were a dream. We chanted so loud at Larry “Chipper” Jones and John “Racist Bastard” Rocker of the Atlanta Braves that it completely messed with their heads and The Mets nearly took the pennant in ’99 after a 16 inning game in the rain that ranks as one of the most surreal experiences of my entire life.

But then, in 2000, The Yankees kicked our asses in the World Series and it was all over. I gave up my seats the following year.

When I moved to San Francisco in 2005, I remained loyal to The Mets. Yes, I adopted the Giants as my new #1 team. I have this as a birthright due to the shit I went through as a kid that resulted from my father’s loyalty to the NY Baseball Giants. I wore my Mets stuff whenever the Mets came to town, and relief pitcher Billy Wagner even tossed me a ball during batting practice, a ball which I still keep on my desk to this day as a stress relief toy.

Today I’m pure Giants. When The Mets come to town I root against them. I hope the scumbag owners who now own The Mets get forced to sell.

If some crazy event happens in my life that makes me a billionaire, I will buy The Mets and help make them the best team in baseball. I will then put The Yankees out of business for good.

The new stadium that replaced Shea, the Citibank Field or whatever it’s called, I have zero interest in whatsoever. I’ve driven past it many times enroute from JFK to The City and back, and it looks like nothing more than a corporate billboard.

Shea was a shithouse, yes. But make no mistake. It was MY shithouse.

The last pitch I witnessed with my own eyes at Shea Stadium, the year before they knocked it down, was the last pitch of Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series. Carlos Beltran had just looked at strike three down-the-middle with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, and the Saint Louis Cardinals had a good old celebration on our field before flying back to Missouri with the Pennant.  Dan Petrofessa had hooked me up with seats to the game, as always, and he & I sat together in the very last row of the farthest reaches of the deep right field upper deck, where I watched so, so many games with my dad as a kid. They don’t let you smoke joints in those seats anymore.

In the far reaches of the upper-deck at Shea, the trajectory of the ball appears Kafkaesque. This is the domain of the most rabid variety of Met fan, those who will stop at nothing to be at the game. They would sit in the lighting rafters above, risking their lives, any day of the year, if stadium management would let them. So would I.

. . . This is the Story of Johnny Rotten.

In late 1994, Bob Ludwig had just mastered “Altitude” for us, and despite the man’s genius at his craft, we were very unhappy with the results. In the recording and mixing process of the album, we had taken great care to maintain the dynamics that were an important part of the songs themselves as well as the band’s sound overall. Ludwig’s take on it was to wipe that all out in order to make the record sound great on FM radio. That was not his idea, by the way, it was in fact the directive from Howard Thompson, our A&R man. Those were his instructions to Nick Sansano (Producer) and Brad Leigh (Engineer) and was never mentioned to us until after the fact.

You see, The Rake’s Progress operated as a 5-person consensus and we were very neurotic people at the time. The grown-ups (Howard, Nick, Brad, and our manager Patti DeVries) had enough of our group dysfunction by the time we were done with the 3 months of production, tracking, and mixing to the cost of a quarter million dollars of Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss’ money.

We were told by Nick that he and Brad would be driving up to Portland Maine together to work with Bob in his studio there, and they would take our aesthetic wishes along with them. They never told us about Howard’s directive so we were pretty shocked and upset at what we heard when we put the DAT on at Matty Kaufman’s apartment and heard all of our precious dynamics gone.

We were so upset, that Bob Ludwig wrote us a very thoughtful letter on his thinking behind the decision to level everything with compressors. He said that since this was supposed to be an “FM Radio Hit Record” he used his very fancy and expensive high-end compressors to do the leveling, rather than have the crappy compressors the FM stations use to the job. This is an entire topic unto itself, but to explain it briefly, FM radio stations compress their signals to level out the dynamic range (i.e. loud/soft). They do this so their signal doesn’t over-modulate and bleed into other frequencies (which is illegal), and also so that the music has more “presence” (i.e. maintains a level and relatively loud “in your face” sound to hold your attention). Some stations compress heavier than others, and the worst culprits of all are the stations that play the “hits”. We were poised at the time to have a “hit record” and that’s why the label was paying all this money to get this dang thing out there. Bob’s rationale was that the record would sound better on the radio, and he was right about that, but it made the CD listening experience pretty dang lousy.

Since we were on the road so much at the time, four of us in the band maintained a small apartment-slash-crashpad on East 10th Street in Manhattan, which we shared with a few of our siblings. One evening, Tim and I were hanging by ourselves around drinking beers and mulling the fate of our beloved new album, when the phone rang. It was Howard.

“Hey Bob, any of the guys around?”

“Yeah, Tim is here.”

“Cool. Why don’t you and Tim come over to the 10th Street Lounge. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

Hanging with Howard always meant fun, and the fun was always on the label’s dime (which technically meant our dime actually), so Tim and I headed down to the bar which was just a block away.

The 10th Street Lounge was a bar which we frequented often since Mary Denny (the woman in the Cheese Food Prostitute album sleeve) was the manager, and we never paid for a single thing, ever. The whole staff treated us like rock stars even though we were only marginally successful. Actual celebrities drank there and they treated us just the same way as they did Kate Moss and Mike Piazza.

It was a Tuesday night and the place was practically empty. At the main bar towards the front sat a few couples making all lovey-dovey, and in the small bar at the rear sat Howard with a guy wearing a winter parka, the hood pulled over his head so you couldn’t see who it was. They were having a chat and a laugh with the hot female bartender. In addition to being a haven of free drinks for us, the bar was staffed with beautiful girls who were very happy to spend quality time with guys in marginally successful rock bands such as Tim and myself.

We approached Howard and his Mystery Friend. Howard turned and smiled at us.

“Bob, Tim, I’d like you to meet my friend John.”

The man pulled down his hood slightly and extended his hand. It was John Lydon AKA, Johnny Rotten, whose post-Sex Pistols band PIL Howard had signed back in the ’80’s.

I froze up completely.

“Aaaaah, so THIS is the band.” he said with a curious look in is eye. Tim and I shook his and and sat down.

“They’ll have what I’m having, luv.”

The bartender fetched a bottle of Stoli and scooped some ice into a cocktail shaker. She poured a healthy measure of the vodka in to the shaker and mixed it with a spoon. Strained into our glasses, was basically pure vodka watered down with a bit of ice.

“Cheers, boys! Howard is a dick!”

Tim and I laughed hysterically, as did Howard. I don’t think there’s anyone else in the world Howard would have sat there and took that from.

We tossed back our shots, and my initial nervousness melted away as I realized this guy was going to be fun.

“Pardon me boys, need to visit the loo.”

John stood up and walked back to the restrooms. Howard leaned in to me and TIm.

“Listen, guys, don’t bullshit with him. He hates that. Just act normal, be your normal selves, and we’ll all have a blast.”

Mr. Rotten returned a moment later and rejoined the group.

“John, these wankers have written a song about me called ‘Howard Is A Drag'”.

John’s face lit up – he was delighted. “Oh, that’s WONDERFUL! I’ll be in the music video, and we can do it on a speedboat in the middle of the ocean. We’ll make Howard wear a leather thong, and I’ll pierce his scrotum. Then I’ll attach the chain of the anchor to his scrotum and  throw the anchor into the ocean, so as the boat speeds along Howard is dragged overboard and submerged completely.”

We all cracked up hysterically, including Howard once again. I could not believe what I was hearing. I still envision that video concept fondly in my mind sometimes, and can not help but wonder if what happened next that evening may have killed the possibility of it ever happening (believe me, I was of the mindset at the time – delusional or not – that we could somehow actually pull something like that off).

After 4 shots of the straight vodka, I was feeling pretty drunk. John expected us to keep up with him drink-for-drink and I was not about to let him down. To be honest, I was AFRAID of letting him man down because of what he might do or say to me, and I didn’t want him to kick me out. I was having  way too much fun.

As the bartender teed up the next round of shots, I realized if I drank it I might actually throw up right there. So, as the other guys raised their heads to tilt back their glasses, I chucked my shot from the glass under the bar towards my feet. I slammed the glass down, pretending that I’d drained it, and the boys were none the wiser.

I repeated this “dumping the shot” for the next 3 or 4 rounds and all was good.

And then he caught me.

“You WANKER! HOW MANY SHOTS DID YOU NOT DRINK??”

“Uuuh, one or two”

“FOUR SHOTS FOR HIM! NOW!”

As she teed up the shots, I realized it was either drink or go home. I was never in a Frat before, but I imagine this would be the closest thing. Hazed by Johnny Rotten.

I used every ounce of self control I could to get the liquid past my throat and into my stomach. I felt the first contractions of vomiting but held my ground. Good. Bullet dodged.

“Alright, Howard, it’s time to get the band LAID!”

I am not now nor have I ever been into prostitutes – it’s something that I really can’t relate to. Especially back then when I was single. The chase was more exciting than the catch, and besides I don’t think I could ever have sex with anyone I hadn’t at least gotten to know a little. That and all the cooties of course.

Tim didn’t do the hookers either, so we politely passed and John and Howard went off to do whatever it is they got into the rest of the night. We never saw Johnny Rotten again.

Cracked

I just spent 3 very long days attending the 2015 Adobe Tech Summit at the Moscone convention center in San Francisco. This was a rare opportunity for me, as I now am involved in something I like to describe as “Dark Ops” from outside the organization (if you want an explanation of what I mean by that, hit me up in the comments and we can discuss). Myself and my colleagues Joey Princz and James Begera were the only “outsiders” in this invited crowd of 3,000 brilliant and accomplished technologists, all current Adobe employees.

Due to the nature of the trust placed in me by my former employer and current client, I cannot reveal much of what went on there, but one thing I can do is share the following story that involves non-confidential, publicly available information.

I also need to state that this is provided for informational purposes only and I don’t’ recommend you try any of this at home as to do so would be highly illegal and could definitely land you in prison.

On the first night of the conference, there was a Tech Fair where many teams from within Adobe showcased various inventions and technologies they are working on. I saw a lot of mind-blowing shit there and I really wish I could tell you all about it.  You will find out about some of it eventually.

Part of the fair involved a “Hacker Village” where members of the Adobe Security team led hands-on labs in which you could learn how to perform common hacks so you could also learn how to prevent them from happening to you or your team. We read about how hacks can happen all the time, but for me, learning to do it hands-on, and then hacking my own Android Phone and Clipper card (SF Bay Area transit money card) with readily available, inexpensive components and software still has me shaken.

There were other labs which involved even scarier things like hacking passwords and entire websites. They were really crowded and I wanted to let the real professionals who really need to know this stuff have the floor so I didn’t do any of those. Security is a hot topic at Adobe, as there was a major breach there last year. What’s even more frightening, in a way, is that this is just the tip of the iceberg, just the things we know about. We should all consider that all information on the internet is fair game for anyone. That has become very apparent to me.

HACKING THE CLIPPER CARD

The Clipper card uses RFID technology, which is used by many other types of electronic key ID cards, garage door openers, Passports, etc. Basically, the card has a unique ID code that the RFID chip transmits.

Here is how I hacked my own Clipper card and basically stole it from myself:

  1. Using a very simple physical device, involving components purchased from Radio Shack, connected to a laptop via WiFi, I scanned the area for RFID signals. This device can detect any RFID within 2 feet. It detected the Clipper card in my wallet and displayed it’s unique alphanumeric ID.
  2. Using a blank card of the same variety, I used another simple and readily available device attached to the laptop to create a new card with the same ID.
  3. I now had an exact copy of my Clipper card. I could use it on any SF Bay Area transit and the money would be deducted from my account, just as if it were my own card. Since this card is linked to my credit card, just imagine the damage that could be done here.

What can be done to prevent this shit from happening to you? Keep those ID cards in a wallet that is designed to block the RFID frequencies. You can find them online and at the geek supply store nearest you.

HACKING THE MOBILE PHONE (or any other device that uses WiFi to connect to the Internet):

This lab also involved a laptop, a $30 scanner purchased from Best Buy, and an application readily available from many online hacker communities.

Here is how I hacked my own phone in order to steal everything I am doing on the Internet via that phone, including my logins, passwords, account information, and all the rest. The whole shebang:

  1. With the scanner attached to the computer, and the software app running, I pressed a button to scan for WiFi connection requests in the area. This might not be the proper technical terminology for this, but the general gist is the following:
    1. When you connect to any WiFi network, your phone remembers it. Let’s say for the sake of this example, I had connected about a month ago to a WiFi network with the SSID “SFO FREE WIFI” when waiting for a flight at San Francisco International Airport.
    2. Whenever my phone is on, and my WiFi is on, and I’m NOT currently connected to a WiFi network, the phone is looking for “SFO FREE WIFI” along with any other networks I had previously connected to. The phone remembers EVERYTHING including any previously used logins/passwords associated with those previous connections of mine. (This goes for any WiFi enabled mobile phone or tablet, by the way. iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, whatever.)
  2. I could instantly see that my phone was searching for “SFO FREE WIFI” amongst other various previously used WiFi SSIDs.
  3. I then used another readily-available app to create a new WiFi network called “SFO FREE WIFI”.
  4. My phone connected to this bogus “SFO FREE WIFI” network instantly, assuming it was the one I had previously been connected to at San Francisco International Airport a month ago.
  5. Via this app, all my information was now passing through a “trap application” (also not a true technical term) in which everything was being captured.

How can you prevent against this? Keep your WiFi turned off on your phone whenever you are not in your home or office or any other place where you are connecting to a trusted network. It also saves your battery.

In fact, don’t connect to ANY WiFi network until you’re completely convinced that it’s a reliable and trustworthy source.

When you do connect to a trusted public network such as an airport or hotel, uncheck the “remember this network” box if it exists on your device.

That is all the scaremongering I have in me for today. Carry on.